improve your horse's diet

Another year is in the books, and a new one is just beginning. In 2018, we provided you with lots of tips and information on how to improve your horse’s health. And one of our most popular areas of interest was horse nutrition.

Before we jump into 2019, let’s take a look back at some important nutrition-related points you can use to improve your horse’s health and well-being in the new year.

1. Balance your horse’s diet.

No matter your horse’s age, breed, or workload, taking steps to feed a balanced diet is the most important nutritional consideration you can make. And while grains and forages might be staples in equine diets, they’re not necessarily balanced to meet every horse’s needs. Have your feed analyzed, or work with a nutritionist to ensure your horse is consuming a balanced diet.

And remember—before adding supplements to or changing your horse’s diet, consider the big picture and make sure other nutrients aren’t being compromised. Too much or too little of certain nutrients can have a substantial impact on your horse’s health. 

2. Take a look at high-strung horses’ diets.

Do you have a hot horse? Take a look at his diet. Yes, certain breeds and types of horses can be naturally more high-strung than others, but diet can exacerbate “fizzy” behavior as well.

Try reducing your high-strung horse’s sugar and starch levels by muzzling when he’s turned out on fresh, lush pasture and providing a good-quality hay to meet his fiber needs. And if he needs extra calories, replacing some of his grain ration with a fat source (such as oil, rice bran, or flax) could also alleviate some diet-related behavior. Researchers also learned in 2015 that one form of magnesium might have calming effects, so discuss adding such a supplement with your veterinarian or equine nutritionist.

3. Consider adding omegas.

Of the polyunsaturated fatty acids, the omega-3s have gained popularity for their potential health benefit in horses. However, horses cannot synthesize their own omega-3s, so they rely on their diets to meet their daily needs.

Researchers have uncovered several potential benefits to feeding horses omega-3s, including:

  • Reduced osteoarthritis severity and pain;
  • Lower inflammatory markers;
  • Lower heart rates during exercise; and
  • Improved lung function for horses with recurrent airway obstruction and inflammatory airway disease.

Other potential benefits of omega-3s include reducing the effects of joint disease, improving healing after an injury, and promoting a healthy metabolism. Work with your veterinarian or nutritionist to determine whether adding omega-3s to your horse’s diet could prove beneficial. 

4. Improve your horse’s gastrointestinal health.

Ulcers, colic, and diarrhea represent just a sampling of the signs of an unhealthy gastrointestinal tract. Any number of things can upset your horse’s digestive tract, including antibiotic or anti-inflammatory use, stress, and diet changes, among others.

We know that many domestic horses are at risk of ulcers due to the way we tend to manage them, including long periods between meals, diets rich in grain and lacking in forage, reduced turnout, and poor-quality forage. So how can we help improve our horses’ gastrointestinal health?

Pre- and probiotics might have some value to horses in mitigating these problematic changes, as could reducing the time between meals by providing free-choice access to good-quality forage. And if your horse eats hay too fast, try a hay feeder or net designed with smaller openings to slow consumption rate.

Also aim to feed smaller, more frequent grain or concentrate meals. When it comes to grain, the smaller the meal, the less likely the chances of starch and sugar spilling over into the hindgut and causing digestive upset. 

5. Ensure Your Horse’s Feed is Safe. 

The dangers of feeding contaminated feed—accidentally or otherwise—remain at the forefront of many horse owners’ minds as stories of horses falling ill or dying after consuming contaminated concentrates keep circulating. Keep feed safety in mind throughout the new year and beyond, whether you’re purchasing hay, grain, supplements, medications … pretty much anything designed to go in your horse’s mouth and into his digestive tract.

Ask feed manufacturers questions about what other types of products are produced or stored in the mill (horse feed vs. other livestock feed, medicated vs. nonmedicated, etc.) and what steps they take to ensure your horse feed is safe. When purchasing hay, ensure it’s good-quality and free of poisonous weeds, insects or beetles, chemicals, and other contaminants. Taking the extra time to check ahead could save time, expense, and even your horse’s life in the future.

Take-Home Message

When it comes to feeding your horses, don’t make the same mistakes you’ve made in the past. Resolve to improve your horse’s health via nutrition to help him live even better in the new year. If you have questions about a particular horse or scenario, consult your veterinarian or equine nutritionist for help.